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 Post subject: The uncrashable car
PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2010 02:34 
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Telegraph here
Andrew English - Telegraph wrote:
The uncrashable car
By Andrew English 6:30AM BST 01 Sep 2010
Volvo has set itself the difficult task of building a car that can't be crashed, but do we really want technology taking control?
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Volvo uses a range of sensors and cameras to collect huge amounts of data for its crash safety researchers Photo: VOLVO
The uncrashable car

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Volvo's Jan Ivarsson talks to Andrew English Photo: ROGER LUNDSTEN

You are driving along a country road, full of love for humanity but unaware that a 40-ton milk tanker is about to lumber out of a hidden side turning, just around the next corner. Your car knows, though. Sensors have identified its size and shape and predicted its course and speed. On-board computers have calculated an avoidance strategy – a quick burst of acceleration and a directional tweak.

Without any human intervention, the car speeds up slightly, the steering twitches slightly and the lorry pulls out with a couple of inches to spare. You can now concentrate on Chris Evans's breakfast show and live happily ever after.

Science fiction? It is at present, but Volvo wants to make it a reality within a decade. It wants to build an uncrashable car and has set ambitious targets. "Our aim is to build cars that do not crash," says Jan Ivarsson, the company's safety strategy chief. "By 2020 no one should be killed or even moderately injured in a Volvo."

Even for a company with such a fine safety record, this is a tall order. The World Health Organisation estimates that 1.2 million people are killed and more than 50 million wounded in road accidents annually.

This was acknowledged by Volvo founders, Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson, when they said: "Cars are driven by people. Therefore, the guiding principle behind everything we make at Volvo is – and must remain – safety."

Volvo was the first car maker to fit safety cages to its cars, as well as laminated windscreens, three-point safety belts, lateral airbags and head protective air curtains, but even Ivarsson admits the uncrashable car is going to be tough to engineer.

To do it, though, there isn't a better qualified car manufacturer. It is 40 years since Volvo started to collate data on real-life accidents. Using information gathered by its own team of investigators, the insurance industry, the police and hospitals, it has studied more than 40,000 mishaps involving 60,000 cars. It's gruesome stuff, but Ivarsson says "It helps us understand what needs to be done."

He points out that any statistical qualification of "zero injuries and deaths" would need to be linked to average miles travelled and that it would be impossible to eliminate every eventuality of death or injury. A truck carries the weight and inertia of 30 cars and it would be impractical to build a car capable of surviving such a head-on impact. He suggests artificial electronic lanes that prevent cars and trucks crossing the central white line, but this sort of technology could only be introduced with government assistance.

Volvo has 10 years and two car generations to achieve its targets and is working on a number of technologies right now.

Driver behaviour study
This EU-funded initiative is one of the most wide-ranging projects ever undertaken. Launched in 2008, the three-year European Field Operational Test (EuroFOT) has 28 partners, including MAN, Ford, Daimler, Audi, BMW, Volkswagen, Fiat and Volvo, as well as tier-one suppliers (such as Bosch), universities and research centres. Costing €21.6 million (£17.6 million), it is 65 per cent funded by your VAT contributions.

That's the boring bit. The bonkers stuff is the data they're mining from a fleet of 100 Volvo V70 estates and XC70 SUVs that have been in the public's hands for four months. There are sensors on the steering, accelerator, brakes, side loads, following distances, cruise control, speed and what's in the blind spots. There's even video of the road ahead and behind, as well as the driver and passenger.

Some of the cars are wired to measure driver sweat rate, blood alcohol concentration and heart beat. It adds up to almost 100 terabytes of information for Volvo's crash safety researchers at the end of the year's test.

You might think you'd be intimidated by these Big Brother cars, but the sensors and electronics are well hidden and you drive pretty much normally.

I managed to break the Volvo factory speed limit, but that's nothing when you see the video of a crazy woman almost clanging into the barriers while chatting on a mobile phone.

Road trains
Grouping cars together in fast-moving, electronically locked platoons has long been a goal of vehicle engineers. Volvo reckons fuel savings of up to 20 per cent are attainable if they can lock cars together at high speed, 3ft apart, but everyone from Mercedes to General Motors has been thwarted by the risks – including the fearsome threat of legal action in the United States.

Volvo is working with Shoreham-based engineering group Ricardo to investigate the possibility of using radar, WiFi and 3G phones to allow vehicles to find, join and leave such convoys in safety, while the front of each train would be controlled by a professional driver in a truck or bus, steering and braking according to road conditions.

The "drivers" behind can catch up on a little light reading, or surf the net, but "best not fall asleep," says research leader Mats Pettersson. Mercedes abandoned a system like this a decade ago, but the Volvo/Ricardo alternative looks promising.

A test vehicle is already able to steer itself behind a radar reflector in a laboratory. Test cars are expected to be running next year – it's a serious project and we'll report on progress…

Collision avoidance
This is where it really gets clever. Most collision systems protect you from one specific accident, such as a pedestrian impact. This uses the same sensors, but a super-smart algorithm also detects where each surrounding car is, draws a vector polygon around it to calculate speed and course, and figures out whether it represents a collision threat. Computers calculate which combination of brakes, steering or even acceleration would avert any potential collision and execute the manoeuvre as required.

Current positioning technology – such as satellite navigation and CD maps – is not accurate enough to allow such a system to work, but potential alternatives are being developed.

Augmented vision
It's difficult to test any of these technologies on a public road, but that's where they will have to work if they are to save lives. Volvo has used a little bit of Hollywood-style computer-generated imagery to replicate circumstances that can be the cause of accidents.

Active safety systems manager Georgios Minos's team augments everyday street scenes with virtual pedestrians, suicidal cyclists and even rag-week students in chicken suits to see whether systems work as they should. The camera "sees" these virtual hazards on a screen in front of the vehicle and the software has to make the correct decisions, otherwise it's back to the drawing board…

Do you really want uncrashability?
Could there be drawbacks if Volvo builds such an unbendable beast? Apart from the sheer tedium of driving something that rebuffs any attempt at driver initiative, there's also the problem of drivers taking bigger risks because they perceive they are in a safer vehicle.

Ivarsson and his team have considered this and advocate better driver training, plus improved road design and car support systems.
"I think we should have even more involvement in the driving process," he says, citing technology such as the counter-steer support introduced two years ago on the Volkswagen Touran. This encourages drivers to steer correctly into a skid and thus helps to decrease emergency braking distances.

I'd started this research with some scepticism about the type of car that might result from Volvo's project, but Ivarsson and his team are refreshingly pragmatic. They seem to like driving, too, and most of their work places the driver at the centre of the decision-making process.
"We need to encourage better skills, better habits and better attitudes," Ivarsson says. "Attentive, active drivers are absolutely necessary if we are to achieve our goal of zero accidents."
Motorists have to be responsible for all that they do and at least have control over all 'gadgets'.
Making the motorist less aware, less interested, much more bored will raise accidents as 'Zombie mode' takes over. Interesting that the technology is at this level although I know that it has been moving in this direction for a while.
Over reliance on technology for road safety is a potentially bad thing.

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 Post subject: Re: The uncrashable car
PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2010 09:01 
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Quote:
"By 2020 no one should be killed or even moderately injured in a Volvo."


I would be much more enthusiastic if that read "By 2020 no one should be killed or even moderately injured by a Volvo." It is relatively easy to build a vehicle that protects the occupants at the cost of the lives of other people. It is called a tank.

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 Post subject: Re: The uncrashable car
PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2010 18:00 
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Knowing what volvo drivers are like you'd build a volvo that didn't move off their driveway. Solves both problems :D


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 Post subject: Re: The uncrashable car
PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2010 22:44 
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Andrew English - Telegraph wrote:
Computers calculate which combination of brakes, steering or even acceleration would avert any potential collision and execute the manoeuvre as required.


Does that mean you will be able to cite the car's computer as the driver?

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 Post subject: Re: The uncrashable car
PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2010 23:33 
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Quote:
or even acceleration would avert any potential collision


What's this???? Using speed as a safety measure....surely NOT....do Brake know?...;-)

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My views do not represent Safespeed but those of a driver who has driven for 39 yrs, in all conditions, at all times of the day & night on every type of road and covered well over a million miles, so knows a bit about what makes for safety on the road,what is really dangerous and needs to be observed when driving and quite frankly, the speedo is way down on my list of things to observe to negotiate Britain's roads safely, but I don't expect some fool who sits behind a desk all day to appreciate that.


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 Post subject: Re: The uncrashable car
PostPosted: Fri Nov 26, 2010 00:14 
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How is the car going to know the precise moment the driver of the tanker is going to decide to pull out?
And how is it going to know exactly when a child is going to run out from behind a parked van?
An observant driver might be able to anticipate these things, but how is a computer going to?
And how's a computer going to know about the patch of ice or the diesel spill just ahead?

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 Post subject: Re: The uncrashable car
PostPosted: Fri Nov 26, 2010 09:52 
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Pete317 wrote:
How is the car going to know the precise moment the driver of the tanker is going to decide to pull out?
And how is it going to know exactly when a child is going to run out from behind a parked van?
An observant driver might be able to anticipate these things, but how is a computer going to?
And how's a computer going to know about the patch of ice or the diesel spill just ahead?


Flux capacitor?

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 Post subject: Re: The uncrashable car
PostPosted: Fri Nov 26, 2010 17:11 
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Toltec wrote:
Flux capacitor?

:lol:

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 Post subject: Re: The uncrashable car
PostPosted: Fri Nov 26, 2010 21:41 
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I am reminded of those sweets - the ones that were supposed to melt in your mouth, but not in your hand?

Simple - my then 3 year old son simply melted them in his mouth... and spat them out back into his hand!

No amount of safety engineering can overcome a determined idiot!

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 Post subject: Re: The uncrashable car
PostPosted: Sat Nov 27, 2010 21:33 
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Pete317 wrote:
How is the car going to know the precise moment the driver of the tanker is going to decide to pull out?
And how is it going to know exactly when a child is going to run out from behind a parked van?
An observant driver might be able to anticipate these things, but how is a computer going to?
And how's a computer going to know about the patch of ice or the diesel spill just ahead?


It can't look ahead. It can see a child running or a tanker moving and work out if it's on a collision course with you - if it maintains a particular speed and bearing. I imagine it will be better than most humans at noticing and keeping track of more than one moving object in the proximity of your car, but I don't think it would be able to "think ahead" as such. In other words, I don't think it could notice that it was a nice day in a residential area with lots of young families and there was an ice cream van up ahead...

My biggest fear is that if such systems are brought on to the market, people who don't want them will be forced into having them - first by the lure of an insurance discount, then via an inflated premium for not having it. After that, I imagine legislation will move in and demand it outright. :cry: I could see it saving lives, but I could also see if further damaging a society that is already largely convinced that everything is someone else's fault. Anyway, I suppose I ought to look on the bright side - at least Volvo think we'll even HAVE cars in 20 years time!


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 Post subject: Re: The uncrashable car
PostPosted: Sat Nov 27, 2010 21:45 
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What happens when it fails? How responsible is the driver? If you expect a safety system to save you from your stupidity then what happens when said system fails to work? All I can see is a new generation of drivers being even more useless as they rely on the car not to crash rather than using their brains and not driving like twonks.

Imagine saying to the police - sorry I ran over that kid. My car didn't brake. Do they get off with it? If someone's brakes failed and they had an accident as a result then they wouldn't be held responsible if they had maintained the car. Does the same apply to failure of other safety systems? Is there any case law on people avoiding punishment because for example their ABS failed so an accident occurred that would not have had it worked?


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